Sainsbury’s has enraged unions and MPs after refusing to back down in a row over staff pay, with the supermarket accused of “holding a gun to workers’ heads”.
The supermarket giant, which is attempting a £12 billion merger with Asda, has been accused by more than 100 MPs of using an increase in its basic pay as a “smokescreen” for the erosion of workers’ benefits such as paid breaks and premium pay on Sundays.
Sainsbury’s attempted to quell the backlash on Thursday by saying talks with staff were finished, and it would invest an extra £10 million in its proposed pay rates.
Sainsbury’s wrote to MPs to defend its proposals, but Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh believes the plans will still leave 9,000 staff worse off.
“How can a company that made pre-tax profit of £589 million last year, with a CEO that receives £930,000 before bonuses, think it is right to force a pay cut on thousands of their most longstanding and loyal members of staff?” Ms McDonagh said.
“It’s not right and it’s not British to ask people to work well for less.”
Unite, the union representing shop staff, accused the supermarket of “breaking its promises” because it would not allow employees to sign up to the new pay structure voluntarily.
Unite is seeking legal advice, saying the supermarket has failed to consult staff meaningfully.
“Bosses have cut short the consultation extension over the plans which will leave thousands out of pocket while still holding a gun to workers’ heads with the threat of ‘sign up to the new contract or be out of a job’,” said Joe Clarke, a Unite officer.
“We have very real concerns that the consultation process over the pay offer and changes to contracts has been nothing more than a PR exercise with the outcome predetermined in advance of the recent plans to merge with Asda.”
Sainsbury’s staff will be moved on to the new contracts in September, and the business will give top-up payments to those negatively affected for 18 months. The supermarket will review pay again in March 2020.
Basic pay will be increased from £8 to £9.20 per hour, but employees will no longer be eligible for a staff bonus.
“The changes we are introducing from September will make pay and contracts fair and consistent for all of our colleagues, in every store, regardless of age or length of service,” Sainsbury’s retail and operations director Simon Roberts said.
A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said there is “no legal merit” to Unite’s claim.
She added: “We are disappointed with this reaction from Unite as they have had a seat at the table throughout the consultation process.
“We ran the consultation period until its natural conclusion as there were no counter proposals on the table that we had not already considered and responded to.
“We informed Unite yesterday that we had no grounds to continue consultation. We have conducted meaningful consultation with colleagues and have invested a further £10 million on top of the original £100 million to make changes in response to their feedback.
“This consultation relates to Sainsbury’s stores only and has nothing to do with the proposed merger with Asda.”